These poems by Charles North – they’re short, have two –
appear in his Complete Lineups (Hanging
Loose Press, 2009).
San Franciscoss Munichcf Parislf Rome
c Madrid3b Londonrf Athens1b Istanbul2b New Yorkp
A Day at the Racesrf The Maltese
Falconlf Rules of the Game3b Children of
Paradisecf On the Waterfront1b The Lady Vanishesss The Baker’s Wife2b Odd Man Outc Masculine
As the season (don’t ask what season: the season) is about to open, at last, as Johan Santana gets ready
to win 25 games, as Jose Reyes prepares to play all 162 games (plus the
post-season), as David Wright gets set for 35 homers, as Jenrry Mejia and Ike
Davis step into our dreams of rookie glory – ah, let it all roll out! – as the
whole team lines up for kisses on the forehead, what better time to turn our
attention to Charles North’s Complete
Lineups?Answer: No better time,
right now, before Oliver Perez goes on the DL again.
The lineup poems were introduced in Charles’ first book, in
1972, and new ones have appeared in magazines and books over the years.Last year, we brought them all together in
one beautiful little book, with art by Paula North, a key member of the
coaching staff from the beginning.The
book has received some very nice reviews in poetry publications – and on
“I don’t know what the non-fan will make of Complete Lineups,” wrote William
Corbett, in his introduction to the book, “but for those love baseball North’s
book is bliss.The first lineup,
“Cities,” has Rome
catching and batting cleanup.Yes!
Catcher is the position to which all roads lead.San
Francisco, the Baghdad
by the Bay, leads off, surely a thief on the bases, and plays shortstop.Istanbul,
batting eighth and playing second, is just right for the “exotic” position
played by Hall of Famers as worlds apart as light hitting Nellie Fox and the
power-hitters Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg.”Bill brings the same insights as he moves along to Vegetables, British
Poets, Diseases, Philosophers, Wildflowers, Herbs & Spices, and the other
lineups.(To my knowledge, Charles has
not addressed the subject of competition between these teams, so we don’t have
any tabloid headlines like Diseases Kill Composers or Colors Fade in Extra
Wait – what’s that?Daniel Murphy out for maybe six weeks?It’s starting, already?We may
need an immediate lineup of Anxieties.
Note: For an excellent
discussion of Charles North’s work, see the piece by Michael Schiavo that
appeared on this blog in February.
Spring training is like watching baseball in a mirror; everything is backwards.
It’s not the big-name stars that matter.They’re just going through the motions, playing an inning or two,
getting in a couple of at-bats, then jogging half heartedly in the outfield
like your uncle Harvey. No, it’s the guys who are battling for a position that
matter, the kids who are trying to impress, the utility player from the other
league who has signed a minor league contract and is trying to find a spot on
the bench, the high draft choice everyone is talking about.
And it’s not the end of the game that matters as it
will in a few weeks in championship play when every managerial move will be
scrutinized, every mistake magnified, when only the best get to play and you
save your most effective pinch hitter, your finest fielder, your fastest
pitcher for the very end of the game. No, it’s the beginning of the game that
matters in spring training when your batters are facing their best pitchers and
vice versa. The deeper you get into the game, the less important the players
and the plays, the less heroic the heroics, the less catastrophic the
And it’s not the outcome that counts. The final
score means very little. In fact, you can leave in the seventh, never know who
wins, and miss nothing. It’s the opposite of the regular season when only the
final score matters, when what is truly notable about Ernie Banks or Ron Santo
or Fergie Jenkins is not their batting average or number of home runs,
strikeouts or wins but that they never won nothin’.
In fact, spring training is not really baseball. It’s
imitation baseball. It’s a bunch of people doing impressions of baseball. It’s
that way in the stands, too. Hohokam Park in Mesa, Arizona, is a little Wrigley
Field, with lots of blue caps, knots of people from Chicago’s near north side
(there are Soba noodles available for them) and Arlington Heights and Des
Moines (fried pork loin sandwiches are available for them), like members of
some university club in a distant city, all reliving moments displaced not so
much in time as in place. Even Ronnie Woo is there, the legendary and ageless
Cubs fan dressed in blue pinstripes and warming up his “Cubs woo!” cry for the
And it’s that way under the stands, too. Concession
workers aren’t cranky or jaded enough, ticket takers are too old and friendly,
and the venders all seem to be practicing the best lines they’ve heard real
venders use over the years: “Crackerjack!It ain’t a ballgame without Crackerjack!” and “Imported beer! Imported
from the ‘frigerador.”
Beyond the outfield wall, there’s a green sloping
lawn on which kids play tag, babies nap, families picnic, college boys drink
beer and coeds work on their already impressive tans causing my cynical twenty-year-old
son Griffin to note beneath his breath that the only thing Arizona State is
number one in is STDs.
And as for the game, well, the Reds hit a homerun
and then the Cubs, and later there is a double play, I think.
No, the real fun of spring training is six blocks
away at Fitch Park, “The Winter Home of the Chicago Cubs.”The players from the roster and the high
minors are all at Hohokam or in Las Vegas playing a split squad game. The
players at Fitch are the future, and it is there that we spend the morning
before the Cubs/Reds game. There are four back to back fields there like
pastures, and across them graze over a hundred young, blue cubs trying hard not
to look callow or intimidated or too far from home, and many are very young and
very far from home. There’s Wes Darvill, a six foot two inch, one hundred and
seventy-five pound shortstop and fifth round draft pick out of Langley, British
Columbia who hit .223 in the Arizona Instructional League and who at the age of
eighteen looks an awful lot like he’s sixteen.There’s Hak Ju Lee, a promising young hitter from Jeonju, South Korea
who along with four or five other of his countrymen cluster around their baby-faced
translator untila Latino coach comes
over to say in English, “Tell your guys thees:get out there and start luking for dobble plays.”
There’s a big, friendly kid named Bob Warner who
clatters by in loud cleats, greets us as if we are coaches (we’re the only fans
watching the workout which, by the way, you can just walk up to off the street,
no charge) and clapping other guys on the butts and backs.There’s an old Anglo coach sitting on an
upturned ball crate behind the mound calling out in Spanglish.There’s a gaggle of very young Dominican
players looking a little lost and very much like the high school baseball team
they should probably be.And here comes
a couple of black players with Anglo Saxon names on their backs reminding us of
Tori Hunter’s recent comments that Afro-Caribbean players are being courted and
cultivated by baseball rather than Afro-Americans because they don’t have to go
through the draft, are not subject to the same rules and regulations, and cost
a lot less.
On the mound is a hard-throwing nineteen-year-old
lefthander named Austin Kirk whom no one can get much of a bat on.After his session he shakes hands
enthusiastically with his catcher and comes off the field stopping to talk
Oklahoman to the Korean translator saying that so and so is taking him to eat
Chinese tonight, and he can’t wait. But then he asks, “Now, they don’t eat dog,
“No, no,” says the translator. “They make good
dishes with chicken and beef.You’ll
Griffin and I look at each other. It’s not just the
foreign kids here who are far from home, nor are they the only ones who are
seeing the larger world for the first time. We each make some notes, Griffin in
his phone, I in my notebook.
“Almost game time,” I say.
“How long do you think it’ll take us to walk over
In the past year (at least) I've made several attempts to write a long piece about Charles North's excellent 2007 book Cadenza. Each time, I've faltered. I think my best course of action is to apply for a grant and, Gideons-like, use the money to place not just Cadenza but all his other books into hotel rooms across the country. The book would act both as reading material, the artwork that adorns the walls, and the rural radio station. I'd like to call his style something like "Transcendental Objectivist" but I don't want the responsibility.
The book's title poem is one of the great longer poems of the last decade. Akin to Ashbery's "The Skaters" in that it's a kind of entry into North's poetry. It's indeed a cadenza—"an elaborate flourish or showy solo passage, sometimes improvised, introduced near the end of an aria or a movement of a concerto." Except that it's the first poem in the book, so we already know we're in for something different. It's a discourse that opens up the fluid passage between the reader and the book, an argument for a certain approach to the creation and evaluation of art that still seems to be largely dismissed. Like Ashbery's poetry, it puts the classical and contemporary on the same plane. Medusa romps with Ted Williams, Athena and "How High the Moon" are not so dissimilar. I remember the exact passage where I began to feel the top of my head being taken off—and I mean this quite literally: I had a physical reaction to the revelation
Then I am at the bottom
of an extremely tall, vaguely cylindrical
(something about it reminds me of a free-form glass candy bowl)
swimming pool which has the water painted up the sides
and no clear point of exit or entry.
Far off, near what must be the top, is what looks like
a porthole where, if the pool were in fact filled,
a swimmer could theoretically exit—although
if this were as well the point at which
the water entered, exiting would be problematic to say the least.
The water is painted in a pleasing
—actually dry-looking—powder blue,
more the look and fell of sky than water,
neither realistic nor stylized (in the manner,
say, of a Hokusai) but somewhere between the two.
The English painter David Hockney, who has in fact
<<< Today is Frank Sinatra's birthday.We should all celebrate because he was a
tremendous man who touched many, many lives.
He did something for me that I never ever thought possible,
and that I will always be thankful for.
Frank called my mother and my sister-in-law answered.He asked for Ma Lasorda and said it was Frank
My sister-in-law hung up in him.
I called back and said, "Hey, that was really
Frank.Put Mom on the phone."
Frank told my mother that he was coming to Philadelphia for a concert and wanted to invite her to be his guest.He also told her that he wanted her to cook
my favorite meal, scarole and beans, and hot peppers and sausage.
Well, to ask an Italian lady to cook is very high honor.
So Frank comes to Philadelphia and pulls onto our block. Jilly, his right-hand man, gets out of the car and
knocks on our neighbor's door.He asks
is Ma Lasorda is there, and of course she tells him that she lived next door.
That lady saw Frank and within 20 minutes there was a swarm
of cars and the police had to be called in.
The next night at the concert, Frank sent a limo to pick up
my mother.There was a doctor and nurse
in the limo who Frank wanted there just to make sure she was okay.
They got to the show, and her seats were in the front row.
As Frank started the show, which was at the Valley Forge Theater, he introduced
her to the crowd, came down from the stage to give her a kiss and flowers, and
dedicated the entire show to her.
What a man!
So today I wish Frank's family all of my love, and I will
always treasure the memories we made during our friendship.
My neighbor in the elevator was giddy with excitement on Monday, November 2. He was on his way to Philadelphia. His family had tickets for the 5th game of the World Series between the Phillies and the Yankees. He was going to join a crowd enthralled with the fact of being at the game. The Phillie supporters would wave their white towels to create an energy flow for their champions. He, though normally an ironic man, would cheer and cheer for his Yankees.
Lucky him? Most fans would say yes.
I love sports and take sides, often rabidly. Watching Roger Federer get beaten in the 2009 US Open made me feel sick. So did the Yankee loss on Monday night.
However, give me a bleacher of my own far away from the huge modern sports dome. The first time I saw such a swollen structure I thought, in disgust, “This is a shopping mall.” My bleacher of choice can be in a small, old arena. The toilets may stink. The hotdogs may be lukewarm. But the fans will sit together in egalitarian simplicity.
Or, my bleacher of choice can be a chair or a bed in front of the TV.
Of course the cameras control what I can see. They decide how often I will watch Chase Utley, the current Philadelphia Home Run King, lean back in his dugout, hair slicked back, face thickly handsome, as happy as a lion who has just made a kill. Better to submit to a camera’s gaze than to a huge scoreboard pounding at me and exhorting me to scream and cheer when my team does well, and to follow the bouncing ads.
Whatever the exact site of a bleacher of my own, let me shout at my own pace, despair at my own pace, pound the glove of my soul at my own pace, pray at my own pace.
The real test of the fan is not how we behave in the crowd but how we behave when we have no witnesses to our fierce loyalties.
Go, Yankees. And Roger Federer, return in all your glory.
At Fenway Park on September 28, 1960, Ted Williams hit a home run in his last at bat, an event memorialized by John Updike in "Kid Bids Hub Fans Adieu," a superb article in The New Yorker. Read the full piece here or whet your appetite with this brief excerpt: << Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams
ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching
screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling,
head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He
didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted"
for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise
for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open
anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is
nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the
umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some
way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters. >> Did you know that Williams lost the MVP in 1941, the year he hit .400, and in 1947, when he won the triple crown?
Every now and then life intrudes into the toy department.
-- Sportscaster Vin Scully [left, in his Fordham days, before he began calling the BrooKlyn Dodgers' games on the radio in the 1950s] on why LA shortstop Rafael Furcal was absent from tonight's game. Furcal and his wife were forced to evacuate their home in an area of La Canada Flintridge threatened by the massivefires.
Hilary Kole's new album is Haunted Heart (Justin Time Records)
It's Bastille Day 2009 and what do I recommend you do to celebrate the 220th anniversary of the storming of the prison and the beginning of the end of the old regime one thing you can do is sing the Marseillaise (Berlioz version) but you can also ignore the whole croissant and read Donald Hall's new baseball poem inThe New Yorkerit's called "Meatballs" but is really about baseball in nine parts, nine lines each part, nine syllables each line, and tonight's the All Star Game with Obama throwing out the first pitch but I think I'll listen to Fred Astaire sing with Oscar Peterson on the piano thanks to Stacey or maybe try this fine new singer Hilary Kole whose last name means voice in Hebrew or Anita O'Day whose last name is dough in Pig Latin she has a version of "You're the Top" that's jazz specific i.e. You're Tatum's left hand, You're the Goodman swing band, you're Lester Young! but whatever you do I hope you have the time to read a French poem or two I recommend Rimbaud (did you know Ashbery is translating the Illuminations) and listen to Charles Trenet sing "La Mer" which Bobby Darren of Bronx Science sang in English somewhere beyond the sea
II. (This is a continuation of the topic in a previous post.)
The bubble in the world of baseball card collecting grew steadily throughout the 1980s; the air came out in the early 1990s. It grew as a result of the overvaluation of the cards of contemporary players. The fact that these stars were new, hot, present, and
capable of raising or dropping their stock with every at bat inflated their
values; they got traded up. At core, the general sense was that these cards would
eventually be the Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays rookie cards of a new
generation. That's what casual hobbyist's assumed. I can recall being at
a baseball card show in 1987, when a young Eric Davis had risen to the fore of
the game, even inviting a Sports Illustrated cover story that wondered
provocatively if he was the next Willie Mays.That Saturday afternoon in 1987, in a day game, Eric Davis
hit three home runs; it was all the chatter; and the value of every piece of
Eric Davis merchandise in the hotel convention room went skyrocketing.What people were unwilling to
understand was that the value that these older cards had was due not to the
deeds of the players, but do to their low numbers.There were smaller printings to begin with (America was
smaller), and the children of the 1950s and 1960s, save for those fastidious,
can’t-have-the-shoes-in-the-closet-touching types, handled their cards
destructively.They stuck them in
bike spokes, and punched holes in them with hole-punchers so they could string
them up in decorative festoons in their bedrooms.I would not be surprised if one or two wasn’t spread with
peanut butter and fed, to an unsuspecting dog, who probably would
have been game for as many as peanut-buttered slathered cards as the neighborhood kids were offering.The cards that survived, that
ended up in a shoebox, untouched, were generally thrown away by mothers.
The point is that though Eric Davis might have been thought
of as the next Willie Mays, (rather, even if he had BECOME the next Willie
Mays), a 1985 Eric Davis card would never be a 1951 Willie Mays card.Though I might have the same nostalgic
response in the year 2064 (should I live that long) to a photo of Eric Davis as
he was, the card would never trade that way.The conditions could never be right.There were millions of cards on the
market in the late 80s.Topps was
joined by Fleer, Donruss, Score, and finally Upper Deck.People were trading on these newer
cards, Mark McQuire rookies and such, as if they had a scarcity that they’d
never have.$7 for a Mark McQuire
rookie in 1987!It was a
great time to open wax-packs.His
first full year in the league, his cards were already being sealed up in
plastic, and being kept away from the conditions that would have given them
actual value. Nobody was going to be putting these in spokes. It was an obvious
bubble, and like all bubbles, it popped.
You have a bubble any time people behave as if there is
value when there isn’t value.I
suppose, in that light, that the foil ball could be perceived as a bubble – or if
not a bubble, a relative species of a bubble.In the case of the ball, you have a man out there in the
world, filling his pockets with foil as he walks along, let us say, 125th
St.On one level, it is a personal
overvaluation of trash….)Anyway,
when this bubble popped in the early 1990s; all the inflated values of these
newer cards plummeted.Many of the
older cards were knocked down a notch in the process. There were some new strategies employed to get value into
the new cards, and in many ways these were successful.Personally I found them disturbing, as a pond stocked with fish is mildly disturbing. (Man's conscious hand at the rudder in such matters causes you to feel not in reality, but in proxy, ersatz reality....) For instance, there was implemented an extremely harsh grading system
that would reward only the one card in ten thousand that was, in the lingo,
“gem mint.”This drew value from
the many and imparted it onto the few in a relatively closed system.There was also the attempt to use fancy materials, to stamp gold-foil
onto the cards in various places.In practice, this chintzy tattooing only highlighted the fact that it
was preposterous that value would exist at all in a mass-produced piece of
cardboard.Manufacturers also did
some low-volume printing of ‘limited edition’ sets.Essentially they were trying to fabricate the conditions of
scarcity.That someone was trying
to raise the level of value on cards by simply pushing the button fewer times (I mean, this is cardboard rectangles spitting out of a machine, not
Faberge-egg painting), is innately unattractive to the soul.There is something infinitely repugnant
about artificial scarcity.A final
thing they’ve done is to include fibers of game-worn jerseys in the cards of
the best players. Sealed into a plastic window in the card itself, you will see
a few pieces of authenticated thread, a snippet of a game used jersey.The collector gets to look at the
jersey in the photograph on the card of, say, Derek Jeter, and know that he has
a few threads of a jersey that might even be that jersey he’s looking at.
It is this last practice that is fascinating to me, and it’s
started me up thinking about baseball cards in a way that I never quite
have.Neil Postman used to
maintain that a good question to ask when encountering a new technology is,
“What is the problem for which this is a solution?”The example he always gave was the cruise-control function
on a car.What problem does cruise
control solve?Assailed that way,
you see it solves the problem of keeping the foot on the pedal, which isn’t a
problem for hardly anyone.Upon
encountering a phenomenon such as this rending of jerseys, you want to ask
yourself a different sort of question: “What is the religious phenomenon that
this phenomenon is a secularization of?”Is what we we’re doing essentially what we used to do, only in varied
form?” The idea that miraculous
power inheres in the bones and teeth and garments of our greatest citizens, has
deep roots in the psyche.When I
feel myself, say, dressed up in catering attire, in well-pressed white jacket,
clean shaven, and bending into a table to gently ask a guest, “Coffee or tea?”,
I feel nothing like the member of a species that would rip apart the garments
and even the teeth and hair and bones of its most revered deceased
members.It is one of our most
peculiar attributes.Of course
it’s aboriginal, pre-Christian, the sense of the magical body, though absorbed into
Christianity; it demonstrates a belief that holiness inheres in the flesh (and
by extension) in the things of this world.A saint’s tooth, planted, might help create an area of
holiness to protect a cathedral being built.Gandhi’s shirt sleeve pressed to the forehead of a dying
child certainly cannot hurt.The
belief is still in practice in Catholicism; still there are bones in altars,
even in the newer churches, which retain a bit of the religion’s essential
horror; i.e. What is best is torn apart (and must be torn apart) if its
goodness is to be spread to all.If you find that horrifying, ah, well, then that is because it is
horrifying.The world is
horrifying, at least partially. As it’s a practical analogy, it’s worth
pointing out that the jersey of Mario Mendoza, or any other weak player, isn’t
being torn about into thousands of individual threads.Ad men and marketing men, as we all know,
are the deep-sea divers of the human psyche.We learn as much about ourselves by studying the ways they
attract us than by anything.